by Michael Foster
It 's strange, the things you remember. When life has crumbled suddenly, and left you standing there, alone. It's not the big important things that you remember when you come to that: not the plans of the years, not the love nor the hopes you 've worked so hard for. It's the little things you that you remember then: the little things you hadn't noticed at the time. The way a hand touched yours, and you too busy to notice; the hopeful little inflection of a voice you didn't really bother to listen to.
John Carmody found that out, staring through the living-room window at the cheerful Tuesday-afternoon life of the street. He kept trying to think about the big, important things, lost now and the years and the plans and the hopes. And the love. But he couldn't quite get them focused sharply in his mind just now. Not this afternoon.
They, those important things, were like a huge but nebulous background in his mind. All he could remember now was a strange little thing: nothing, really, if you stopped and thought about it in the light of the years and the plans and the great love. It was only something his little girl had said to him. One evening, two, perhaps three weeks ago, Nothing, if you looked at it rationally. The sort of thing that kids are always saying.
But it was what he was remembering, now. That particular night, he had brought home from the office a finished draft of the annual stockholders ' report. Very important, it was. Things being as they were, it meant a great deal to his future, to the future of his wife and of his little girl. He sat down to re-read it before dinner. It had to be right: it meant so much.
And just as he turned a page, Marge, his little girl, came with a book under her arm. It was a green-covered book, with a fairy-tale picture pasted on it. And she said, "Look, Daddy. "
He glanced up and said, "Oh, fine. A new book, eh? "
"Yes, Daddy," she said. "Will you read me a story in it? "
"No, dear. Not just now," he said.
Marge just stood there, and he read through a paragraph, which told the stockholders about certain replacements in the machinery of the factory.
And Marge 's voice, with timid and hopeful little inflections, was saying, "But Mummy said you probably would, Daddy."
He looked over the top of the typescript. " I'm sorry, " he answered. "Maybe Mummy will read it to you. I'm busy, Dear."
"No," Marge said politely. "Mummy is much busier, upstairs. Won 't you read me just this one story? Look and it has a picture. See? Isn't it a lovely picture, Daddy?"
"Oh, yes. Beautiful," he said. "Now, that picture has class, hasn't it? But I do have to work tonight. Some other time."
After that, there was quite a long silence. Marge just stood there, with the book open at the lovely picture. It was a long time before she said anything else. He read through two more pages explaining in full detail, as he had directed, the shifts in markets over the past twelve months, the plans outlined by the sales department for meeting these problems which, after all, could safely be ascribed to local conditions, and the advertising program which after weeks of conferences had been devised to stabilize and even increase the demand for their products.
"But it is a lovely picture, Daddy. And the story looks so exciting," Marge said.
"I know," he said. "Ah mmmmmmmm. Some other time. Run along, now."
"I'm sure you'd enjoy it, Daddy," Marge said.
" Eh? Yes, I know I would. But later. "
"Oh, of course," she said. " You bet. "
But she didn't go away. She still stood there quietly, like a good child. And after a longtime, she put the book down on the stool at his feet, and said, "Well, whenever you get ready, just read it to yourself. Only read it loud enough so I can hear, too."
"Sure," he said. "Later." And that was what John Carmody was remembering. Now. Not the long plans of love and care for the years ahead.
He was remembering the way a well-mannered child had touched his hand with timid fingers, and said, "Only read it loud enough so I can hear, too." And that was why, now, he put his hand on the book. From the corner table where they had piled some of Marge 's playthings, picking them up from the floor where she had left them.
The book wasn't new any more, and the green cover was dented and thumbed. He opened it to the lovely picture. And reading that story, his lips moving stiffly with anguish to form the words, he didn't try to think any more, as he should be thinking, about the important things: about his careful and shrewd and loving plans for the years to come; and for a little while he forgot, even, the horror and bitterness of his hate for the half-drunken punk kid who had careened down the street in a second-hand car and who was now in jail on manslaughter charges.
He didn't even see his wife, white and silent, dressed for Marge's funeral, standing in the doorway, trying to make her voice say calmly, "I'm ready, Dear. We must go."
Because John Carmody was reading:
'Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a woodcutter 's hut, in the Black Forest. And she was so fair that the birds forgot their singing from the bough, looking at her. And there came a day when '
Foster, Michael. (1995).
Configurations. United States Information Service (USIS): Classroom Textbook Series: "American Literature and Culture." http://www.njcu.edu/cill/vol7+Luk.html
updated:10 September 2014
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